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Are you sitting comfortably? Let Sian tell you her story.

- May 18 2018

Copywriter, journalist and novelist Sian Norris will join Aline Reed and others on the Storytelling session at this year’s Summer School. Taking place on the Thursday afternoon, the panel will discuss powerful stories — where they come from, how we write them, and why they matter.

Sian Norris was the lead writer at Different Kettle for five years, writing warm, cold and legacy appeals for clients as wide-ranging as Macmillan, Greenpeace, and Christian Aid. She’s a leading voice in the UK feminist movement and is a regular contributor to the New Statesman, Guardian, openDemocracy 5050, politics.co.uk and Prospect UK. She is currently the Ben Pimlott Writer in Residence at Birkbeck University.

We asked Sian a few questions about the future of fundraising and what she's learned from working with numerous nonprofits.

What big changes or challenges do you see coming down the track for fundraising?

I think we need to rebuild trust. Being a Bristolian, I was very aware of the Olive Cook scandal and although I think a lot of irresponsible reporting went on, it did raise concerning issues about how charity fundraising is perceived. I think we responded well to that… but then in 2017/2018 we’ve seen a loss of trust again with the Me Too scandals. As a feminist writer and activist, I was both unsurprised and appalled by what Me Too revealed about our sector. However, I have seen first hand the amazing work charities do for women’s empowerment and ending male violence against women and girls. How charities are leading the way in tackling the causes of Me Too and lifting up the voices of women affected. I know how great we can be, and as we rebuild trust with supporters and beneficiaries I hope we can really demonstrate that greatness.

How do you think fundraisers can best prepare or adapt for those changes?

I think it is about showing our supporters the brilliant work charities do. After all the mailing scandals, there was a sense in some sections of the media that people resented charities, or didn’t like giving to charity. This isn’t the case. Donors feel such a connection to the charities they give to. They feel part of a community, part of a greater effort, and they feel good about themselves for being involved. I think we need to remember why people give, respect why they give, and talk to them as partners in an effort to solve the problem they care about. Trust comes with respect.

As for Me Too — this is obviously more specifically international development or specialist services in the UK. As I say, charities are empowering women all over the world. They are challenging the causes of exploitation and male violence. So let’s showcase that — let’s rebuild trust by celebrating the fantastic and inspiring women who are working for a more equal future every day.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned about fundraising?

That when it comes to good fundraising copy, there are no rules. The most important thing is to tell a story in the best way possible. It may be funny, it may be sad, it may be enraging. You can’t structure every letter in the same way, you can’t follow a rubric to write the “perfect” appeal. You just have to find the honest truth in the story you are telling.

You also need to respect your donor. They’re not stupid, they’re not “different” to you. They are engaged, interested, enthused supporters who want to discover how their gifts are making an impact.

What has got you excited about coming to Summer School this July?

Last year I loved the chance to meet fascinating people, learn new ideas and techniques, and question my own pre-conceptions about fundraising and “what works”. So I am mainly looking forward to more of that!

Join Sian at Summer School this July. Book now.